People in the News

Pianist Di Wu:’s Artist of the Month

May 1, 2009 | By Sedgwick Clark

NEW YORK -- Di Wu is one serious young artist.

She began playing the piano at age 4, studying in her native China until moving to the United States at age 15. As an undergraduate she studied with Gary Graffman at the Curtis Institute of Music; currently she is working with Joseph Kalichstein and Robert McDonald toward her Artist Diploma at the Juilliard School. She won that institution’s prestigious William Petschek Piano Recital award this year and will play works by Clara and Robert Schumann, Medtner, Schoenberg and Ravel at Lincoln Center’s Alice Tully Hall on May 5th. Later in the month she will compete in the Van Cliburn Competition in Fort Worth, Texas.

Only last year, in Musical America’s 2008 Directory, Di Wu (pronounced Dee Ooh) was among several musicians chosen by Harris Goldsmith as leaders of their generation [see “Young Artists: More Thrills of Discovery”]. Since then, her appearances have continued to increase, both in the U.S. and overseas. Goldsmith, the dean of American piano critics, was present at Rockefeller University’s Caspary Auditorium last month when Wu performed several of the works she will play in the Petschek recital. “She has fierce concentration, natural musicality, and grasp of style that draws the listener into whatever she plays,” he said afterwards. “There are many fine young pianists today, but Di Wu is special—a real musician, not just a virtuoso.”

Exemplary musicianship is not the only artistic imperative these days, however, and the 24-year-old charmed her S.R.O. Rockefeller audience with well-chosen words about the 20th-century works on the second half of her program. Later that day, to an interviewer, she revealed herself to be as engaging, articulate and confident as her pianism.

“I like challenging and demanding teachers to give me the technique and discipline I need. It was good for me to receive the discipline that Chinese teachers imposed on me when I was 12 or 13—very strict, very demanding. Basically there was no other way than what they told me to do. Once I got to the United States, the teachers started to give me more freedom. Mr. Graffman gave me a lot of freedom to choose what I wanted to play and how to play it. If I had a concrete idea — even if it was different from his— he would still support it if I could convince him that it made sense. When you get older, that freedom is necessary for you to become your own [self]. So I think I switched the gear at the right time.”

When programming her upcoming recital, Wu resisted the temptation to trot out her favorite warhorses and end with a bang. “I decided to choose music that I really wanted to play— for no other reason than that I love it. I knew I would be doing Ravel and Schumann because these are my favorite composers right now.”

She will begin with a Mazurka from Clara Schumann’s “Soirées Musicales,” incorporated by Robert at the beginning of his “Davidsbündlertänze,” which follows. “It was ‘Davidsbündlertänze’ that made me a Schumann fan,” says Wu. “It’s the most intimate piece he ever wrote—a declaration of his love for Clara. To me, as little dating life as I have had,” she says, laughing heartily, “this is what love means. It’s amazing: It’s not just ‘I love you’—it’s ‘I will love you forever.’ ”

The second half of the program consists of three pieces written around 1911: Medtner’s “Fairy Tales,” Op. 20; Schoenberg’s “Klavierstücke,” Op. 11; and Ravel’s “Gaspard de la Nuit.” “I feel I have to be a chameleon to perform this program. It’s challenging; it uses different techniques. The first half presents an idea of unity, and in the second half I wanted a concept of diversity, of opposites. It’s hard to bring a fresh perspective to these composers—I don’t want to just play them, I really want to understand and get into their heads. I’m still waiting for the time when I have a revelation and feel ‘I got that!’ But right now I’m just enjoying my Schumann and Ravel.”

How does this enterprising young woman see her future?

“I think anybody at this age would say, ‘I want to play with the top ten orchestras of the world, in the United States, all the major venues, blah blah blah.’ I want that too. But I’m always looking for new challenges. I’m taking on one composer at a time. I have Schumann-Ravel. Next I want to revisit Liszt. I used to play a lot of the Liszt showpieces, but I’m moving away from that type of music now. I want to do sort of a story-telling program next year, beginning with the Janácek sonata, ‘Les Adieux,’ and then the Pilgrimage: ‘Italie.’ I like to know I’m moving forward and not standing still. I mean, what’s the goal? I just want to play beautiful music that I really enjoy. So forward, always forward,” she says with that hearty laugh again, “and never stay in the same place.”



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